The conquering of climate: Discourses of fear and their dissolution

Hulme, Mike (2008) The conquering of climate: Discourses of fear and their dissolution. The Geographical Journal, 174 (1). pp. 5-16. ISSN 1475-4959

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We are living in a climate of fear about our future climate. The language of the public discourse around global warming routinely uses a repertoire which includes words such as ‘catastrophe’, ‘terror’, ‘danger’, ‘extinction’ and ‘collapse’. To help make sense of this phenomenon the story of the complex relationships between climates and cultures in different times and in different places is in urgent need of telling. If we can understand from the past something of this complex interweaving of our ideas of climate with their physical and cultural settings we may be better placed to prepare for different configurations of this relationship in the future. This paper examines two earlier European discourses of fear associated with climate – one from the early-modern era (climate as judgement) and one from the modern era (climate as pathology) – and traces the ways in which these discourses formed and dissolved within a specific cultural matrix. The contemporary discourse of fear about future climate change (climate as catastrophe) is summarised and some ways in which this discourse, too, might be dissolved are examined. Conventional attempts at conquering the climatic future all rely, implicitly or explicitly, upon ideas of control and mastery, whether of the planet, of global governance or of individual and collective behaviour. These attempts at ‘engineering’ future climate seem a degree utopian and brash. Understanding the cultural dimensions of climate discourses offers a different way of thinking about how we navigate the climatic future. However our contemporary climatic fears have emerged – as linked, for example, to neoliberal globalism, to ecological modernisation and the emergence of a risk society, or to a deeper instinctive human anxiety about the future – they will in the end be dissipated, re-configured or transformed as a function of cultural change.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: sdg 13 - climate action ,/dk/atira/pure/sustainabledevelopmentgoals/climate_action
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Science > School of Environmental Sciences
Depositing User: Rosie Cullington
Date Deposited: 01 Mar 2011 14:48
Last Modified: 19 Jan 2023 14:30
DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-4959.2008.00266.x

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